So, though we haven’t made a huge deal of it, Screencrave will be turning out the lights. Maybe for a while, maybe permanently (we should have some Comic-con coverage coming next month). Which means my eight-year tenure (including my time at Chud) of writing about box office is coming to an end. And I have some thoughts about that.
The biggest thing that’s changed in the last ten years is the size of a franchise openings. Twenty six films have done more than $100 Million in their three day, with twenty one of those in the last eight years. This was a phenomenon that hadn’t happened before 2002, so this is a phenomenon that is basically a decade old. One of those crossed the two hundred million dollar mark (The Avengers) , but for many of these a three to one opening weekend to total is the way of the world (some come closer to only doing twice their opening).
What we’ve seen this summer are films that open in the ninety million range that can barely make it over $200 Million. And where a decade ago studios could count on home video to deliver untold fortunes (literally untold, they don’t like revealing those numbers), now they don’t have that cushion. The industry is hurting, and so you have films that are hyped and do well in their opening weekends and go away.
What it also means is that they’re mostly chasing the familiar. Which gets you Sony setting up four additional Spider-Man films and Warner Brother’s aggressive DC slate (even if they’re not making nine movies over the next four or five years, they are definitely on their way to Justice League) and a new Star Wars trilogy and countless spin-off movies.
What they seem to be ignoring, and probably at their own peril, is the successes of films like Gravity and Frozen, which beat this standard operating procedure by playing long and to audiences who are hungry for this sort of material.The problem is that there you have nothing to fall back on. You don’t have brand awareness, and the star system doesn’t currently guarantee an opening, so no cast member makes sure you’ll do all that well internationally. It’s easy to understand why they don’t want to give sixty to two hundred million dollars to a film that could fall on its face and may also not lead to a sequel.
If Hollywood wants to do better — at least stateside — their biggest objective should be helping make American stronger economically. The best way to get more people in theaters is having people with more expendable income. If theaters tickets can cost upwards of twenty dollars and a family outing can run over a hundred dollars, they would be better served by trying to get the nation to raise the minimum wage, and make more movies in America. But that’s a macro view.
The route for independent films is also getting perilous — it would make sense for the studios to operate with some loss leader sensibilities in regards to middle budget films as we’re getting franchise films directed by filmmakers with limited experience. It would have been inconceivable for someone like Colin Trevorrow to direct Jurassic World ten or fifteen years ago, but when studios don’t make films like Insomnia, there’s no room to prove you’ve got the goods before you’re thrust onto the franchise throne. There are only so many people who’ve directed hundred million dollar movies, and there’s so few opportunities for middle budget films that you see talented people and filmmakers who haven’t really proved themselves launched into these larger movies, which often — but doesn’t necessarily — mean that the filmmaker is less likely to have authorial control over the material. If the set pieces have been pre-viz’d, and their input is more in the margins, producers are more likely to have a larger imprint, which also leads to the Marvel model. That’s to get directors to do more coverage, to get TV directors, and then the producers have more power in the editing bay. There aren’t as many tracking shots and extended takes in the current universe of the blockbuster.
And though VOD seems to be working somewhat, it — like the death of 35mm — is leading to more people staying home, and/or waiting for Netflix. But it’s harder and harder for an indie film to crack big. The Grand Budapest Hotel was considered a success because it did more business than Wes Anderson’s most successful film, and if you’re outgrossing a film you made thirteen years ago by a couple million, it’s just hard. On top of which there aren’t as many opportunities for lower budget movies because it’s that much harder to get financing since studios aren’t as likely to pick up these smaller films.
There is hope, there is hope every year when films like The Wolf of Wall Street and Frozen show that people don’t just want junk food, but this summer has been pretty depressing so far as a certain audience Pavlovianly goes opening weekend to the latest big whatever. It would be telling if Transformers 4 opens to over a hundred million but can’t crack $300 Million domestic. But there is a sense that working for Marvel and helming a hundred million dollar tentpole doesn’t lead to the standard “one for them, one for you” formula. At least you’re not going to get that deal from a studio that simply makes comic book movies. But it’s those payoff movies that make the cinema worth going to.
Still, the last news story I wrote for the site was about Rian Johnson directing a new Star Wars movie, and I’m excited for that beyond measure. So there are ways to even make a franchise that seems like a cash register for its studios exciting. There is good and there is bad. Which is, to quote one of the greatest songs of all time, the same as it ever was.